Written by Brad Lane
Jun 8, 2020
Located on the northern edge of the Ozark Mountains in central Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks was created by an impoundment of the Osage River in 1931. In its near 90-year history, this long and winding lake has grown into Missouri's premiere vacation destination. With more than 1,100 miles of shoreline outlining this massive man-made reservoir, the water is always a defining feature of any visit.
Whether it's golfing within view of the water, camping next to the shore, or renting a boat for the day, the Lake of the Ozarks offers all types of vacations and things to do. Other reasons people flock to the lake include historic lodges, swinging bridges, and raging water parks. All this, and more, adds up to the perfect destination for long weekends and extended family vacations.
One of the best base camps for activity is the city of Lake Ozark, just south of the Osage River impoundment, the Bagnell Dam. Osage Beach, six miles south of Lake Ozark, is another popular place to visit and is the largest city at Lake of the Ozarks. Farther south, Camdenton also provides plenty of adventure, including subterranean exploration of Bridal Cave.
For more ideas, see our list of the top attractions and things to do at Lake of the Ozarks.
1. Lake Activities
No one visits Lake of the Ozarks without experiencing the water. Whether it's navigating the lake on a boat, fishing from the shore, or enjoying the aquatic views from a cozy residence, the water is never far from sight no matter the type of vacation.
Boating is made easy through boat rentals from outfitters like Dirty Duck Boat Rental in Osage Beach. Expect to see every type of boat on Lake of the Ozark, ranging from stand up paddleboards to fully furnished houseboats. Activities on the lake commonly include water-skiing, tubing, and throwing the anchor in a while to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Personal watercraft can take advantage of the several public boat ramps lining the shore. Lake of the Ozarks is also regarded as one of the best fishing lakes in the country thanks to a variety of species teeming within its waters. Among many other species, anglers cast for crappie, bluegill, catfish, walleye, and a variety of bass.
A great way to enjoy the natural environment, including two sandy swimming beaches, is Lake of the Ozarks State Park. The state park features numerous amenities and a spacious campground to pitch a tent. For more upscale places to stay, the best resorts at Lake of the Ozarks include rooms with lakeside views.
2. Lake of the Ozarks State Park
Surrounding the southeast Grand Glaize arm of Lake of the Ozarks, this state park is the largest in Missouri. The lakeside campsites at Lake of the Ozarks State Park provide easy access to the lush Ozark Mountain landscapes. And spending the night is perhaps the best way to dive deep into all 17,000 acres and miles of shoreline encompassed by the park.
Two State Park Marinas at either end of Lake of the Ozarks provide everything you need to enjoy the lake. Boat rentals, fishing supplies, and some insider tips on fishing are available at both marinas. The sandy beaches are some of the best beaches in Missouri.
For iconic hiking endeavors at the state park, the 13-mile Trail of Four Winds provides a good amount of exercise and excellent views of the water. Several other shorter hikes wind throughout the southeast region of the park, catering to more family-friendly endeavors. Lake of the Ozarks State Park also features a unique 10-mile Aquatic Trail that provides interpretive information to boaters.
Offering underground activities, too, the state park also offers guided tours of Ozark Caverns within the park's boundaries. To top off any visit, the campground at the state park ranks as one of the best camping spots at Lake of the Ozarks. The campground also features other lodging options, including cabins and yurts.
Address: 403 MO-134, Kaiser, Missouri
Official site: https://mostateparks.com/park/lake-ozarks-state-park
3. Golf Courses
One of the most popular things to do at Lake of the Ozarks is golfing at one of many golf courses. Featuring lakeside courses with expansive views, golfing at Lake of the Ozarks is more than just the experience of swinging a club, it's an outing into a beautiful Ozark landscape.
All skill levels will find something to appreciate at the dozen plus golf courses at Lake of the Ozarks. Nearly all courses at Lake of the Ozarks are open to public play. Some, like the 27 holes at Osage National Golf Resort, an Arnold Palmer Signature Course, offer picture-perfect golf rounds.
Osage National Golf Resort is in Osage Beach and is open to the public to play. Likewise, the zoysia fairways at Bear Creek Valley Golf Club is located nearby and accepts public tee-times.
South of Osage Beach and across the lake in Camdenton, Old Kinderhook is regarded as one of the Ozark's best public golf courses. This championship course features a lakeside setting complete with rolling fairways, long putts, and a picturesque layout with every hole. Old Kinderhook is also home to a popular spa and resort.
4. Bagnell Dam
To appreciate the marvel of engineering that created the Lake of the Ozarks, the Bagnell Dam deserves your attention. With construction completed in 1931, the dam spans more than 2,500 feet and impounds the Osage River. This marvel of engineering generates hydroelectric power and the immense watery landscape that is Lake of the Ozarks.
Visitors to the Bagnell Dam are afforded many opportunities to appreciate the engineering at hand. The Bagnell Dam Overlook on Upper Power Plant Road provides a great overlook of the facility. On the opposite side of the dam, the Bagnell Dam Strip offers classic summer fun, with family friendly restaurants, unique shops, and the Hot Summer Nights motor festival.
5. Bridal Cave
To explore another defining feature of Missouri, Bridal Cave is great for young explorers and seasoned adventurers alike. Located near the city of Camdenton, Bridal Cave has a long history in the area, dating back for centuries before the lake was created.
Bridal Cave notably served an important role in the Osage Native American culture and folklore, lending this deep cave its current name and story. More information on Bridal Cave's history can be acquired on any one of the hour-long guided tours offered throughout the day.
Guided tours are the only way to explore the cave. Tours are offered throughout the year, and thanks to its subterranean nature, the cave is consistently a comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Along the guided route, visitors to Bridal Cave witness for themselves the giant columns, sensitive soda straws, and mysterious lakes that make Bridal Cave one of the best year-round attractions at Lake of the Ozarks.
Address: 526 Bridal Cave Road, Camdenton, Missouri
Official site: https://bridalcave.com/
6. Ha Ha Tonka State Park
Ha Ha Tonka is south of Bagnell Dam, near Camdenton, and along the shore of the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. The state park delivers on beautiful Ozark scenery and an interesting look into a ruined past.
Ha Ha Tonka encompasses more than 3,000 acres of karst and woodland attractions. Popular land activities include hiking, backpacking, and exploring geological features, such as sinkholes, caves, and a natural bridge. With easy access to the water, other popular activities at Ha Ha Tonka include boating, fishing, and swimming.
Near the northwest entrance of Ha Ha Tonka State Park, the ruined remains of an early 20th-century castle are a unique feature of this popular state park. These ghostly castle walls date back to the beginning of the 1900s. This mansion-turned-hotel burned in the 1940s, and today the ruins are a centerpiece to most visits to Ha Ha Tonka State Park.
Address: 1491 State Road D, Camdenton, Missouri
Official site: https://mostateparks.com/park/ha-ha-tonka-state-park
7. The Historic Willmore Lodge at Lake of the Ozarks
Located on the National Register of Historic Places, Willmore Lodge is home to the Lake of the Ozarks Visitors Center. The facility also features a museum displaying the history behind nearby Bagnell Dam. For anyone new to the area, the Willmore Lodge is a great first stop when visiting Lake of the Ozarks.
A striking wooden-log building surrounded by water, Willmore Lodge was constructed by Union Electric in 1930 alongside the dam. Visitors to the Willmore Lodge today can take in the aesthetics of the architecture and enrich their visit to the Lake of the Ozarks with historical displays about the area.
The visitor center at Willmore Lodge can point you in the direction of more things to check out in the area. But with any stop, the panoramic view of the lake offered by the Willmore Lodge is worth the stairs leading down to the observation deck. The lodge and visitor center are both open year-round.
Address: 1 Willmore Ln, Lake Ozark, Missouri
Official site: http://www.willmorelodge.com/
8. The Swinging Bridges of Brumley
Located within the southeast boundary of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, near the small village of Brumley, two steel-suspension bridges have stood the test of time to remain a tourist attraction today. Both bridges, the 414-foot Grand Auglaize and the 134-foot Miller Creek Bridge were built by Joseph A. Dice in the 1930s.
Dice was a prominent swinging bridge builder from Missouri historically noted for "eyeballing" his bridge designs. Regardless of his methods, visitors can still drive over the loose-planks of the Auglaize Bridge today. The entire area surrounding the two bridges is a dense woodland ripe for activity, including swimming in the shallows of Auglaize Creek or using the primitive camping sites found ashore.
Address: Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri
9. Big Surf Waterpark
Nothing beats the heat of a Missouri summer quite like an afternoon at Big Surf Waterpark. Situated just south of Osage Beach and Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Big Surf Waterpark features raging rapids, lazy rivers, and a variety of water attractions. All swimming abilities and age levels are catered to at Big Surf Waterpark.
Two of the more unique water rides at Big Surf include the three-story-high Zambezi Falls water halfpipe, and the 30-foot-wide Space Bowl that patrons drop into. While you are at Big Surf Waterpark, a session in the 375,000-gallon wave pool is a must, as well as a go at the aquatic obstacle course found in the activity pool.
The facility also features concessions at the Surfside Grill, including corn dogs, pizza, and hamburgers.
Address: 954 State Hwy Y, Linn Creek, Missouri
Official site: http://www.bigsurfwaterpark.com
More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com
Staying the Night at Lake of the Ozarks: The best way to enjoy the Lake of the Ozarks is to stay a few nights, weekends, or the entire summer. The sprawling arms of the lake provide several memorable spots to stay. For an upscale experience, the top resorts at Lake of the Ozarks feature lakeside suites and fine-dining menus.
More Places to Visit in Missouri: The Show-Me State has a lot of things to see. The top attractions of Missouri span all sides of the state. For a deep dive into some of Missouri's biggest cities, check out our guides to Kansas City and St. Louis.
Other Cities in Missouri: The fun doesn't stop outside Missouri's major cities. The many top attractions in Columbia include collegiate architecture and scenic natural spaces. Likewise, the many things to do in Springfield can keep you busy throughout the year. For another top Missouri vacation destination, the Live Music Capital of the World, Branson, is chock full of fun and entertainment.